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Student-run Search Engine Takes First Place

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, April 22, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

PIQC, a visual search engine powered by a data sharing network, placed first in the 2010 Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC). The PIQC team, which consisted of Shahbano Imran, BC '09, and David Tolioupov, A&S '10, took home the grand prize of $10,000 to help get their search engine off the ground.

PIQC was chosen from among 17 official business plans submitted to the competition, and was one of six finalists.

It pitched itself as a next-generation search engine that is able to produce more relevant search results because of its unique method of gathering data and presenting it in a manner that is visually appealing to the users.

"PIQC represents the next great paradigm shift to the semantic Web," Imran said. "Where Web 2.0 is about social media, the semantic Web is about the individual and creating a more personal experience. It corrects the current search process by making data visible to search engines and presenting it to users in a relevant and visually appealing way."

The award is the culmination of over seven months of work for Imran, Tolioupov, and the other competitors. Since October, teams have not only developed professional business plans for their respective projects, but they also consulted with BC alumni who acted as business mentors and work in a field related to the individual projects.

Teams also were able to gain insight into the startup business world through monthly presentations by the BCVC committee.

"The winning team, PIQC, was stellar," said John Gallaugher, faculty advisor to BCVC and associate professor of information systems. "The firm had a working demo and they are rolling out a pilot with the U.N. which is focused on making their data accessible.

Furthermore, their solution is elegant, addresses a pressing need, and has the potential to be really big. They can revolutionize search and make data significantly more useful. They are the best example I have seen of the promise of what is known as the semantic Web, the idea that you can make data visible to search engines."

Gallaugher said the team of Imran and Tolioupov was exemplary for their attention to detail and comprehensive approach to refining the concept of a search engine.

"Think of the numbers that show up on a Web page," Gallaugher said.

"Now, imagine you can have a computer tell that a number is a price, a quantity, a rating, or an address. Now, imagine you can gather that data across all sites and build tables showing exactly the ordered categorized data you want. That is PIQC's promise, and they are already delivering on it with a magnificently beautiful interface."

2010 marks the fourth year of BCVC, which awards a total of $15,000 in prizes each year. The organizers said past organizers have found success and that two of the last three have become Silicon Valley startups.

2009's BCVC winner, WakeMate, was recently admitted to Y-Combinator, one of the nation's most elite startup accelerator programs. WePay, a Web site aimed at making it easier for groups to collect, spend, and manage money, is another BCVC winner that has since launched, due in part to $1.65 million in financing from August Capital and various  investors.

"BC is not known for entrepreneurship, but the yeoman's efforts of our students, partnering with our extraordinary alumni, have created a program that is world-class," Gallaugher said. "We have got the potential to do much more, and I look forward to seeing BCVC grow next year and explore all sorts of new opportunities."


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